The internet has been hailed as one of the greatest inventions of the modern age; a magical gateway to information, communication and resources unlike anything we could previously have dreamed of. Many have claimed that it is the greatest single technological advance for education, as it opens up opportunities for studying, discovering and learning that were hitherto unimaginable. But as time goes by and the first generation of students to truly grow up with modern internet technology from birth reach their teenage years, some have started to question whether students’ over-reliance on technology could be more of a burden than a blessing…
The internet provides students with the enormous advantage of a world of information at their fingertips. The simple act of tapping a search term into a keyboard can deliver a Google-selected list of hundreds of relevant articles in under a second – a far cry from the hours students would spend leafing through library books and journals in days gone by.
But with the internet’s ease of access come disadvantages too – false and inaccurate information is easily disseminated and it can be difficult to accurately trace sources or corroborate information. Meanwhile, the sheer volume of research materials online can make it ‘too easy’ for students to find the information they need, allowing them to compile an entire roster of facts by copying and pasting without actually having to understand or analyse the information they are sifting through at all. Whilst a student twenty years ago would have had to read and digest a huge amount of information in order to put together a report on tree frogs, for example, using different sources for different parts of the project, a modern student would be able to discover everything they needed to know from a single internet site, picking up little knowledge in the process.
With the rise and rise of fantastic technological solutions for communication, from mobile phones to iPads to Skype and Facebook, a wealth of education opportunities have become available to modern students. Pupils from UK secondary schools can now hold online debates with a class of their contemporaries in the United States or beyond, whilst projects like class blogs, interactive group webpages and programs to design interactive online animations have allowed educational communication to blossom.
But at the same time, some argue that the over-reliance of modern teenagers on technology and devices such as mobile phones and laptops is taking its toll in other areas of education. Literacy and writing skills are said to be suffering as children write less and less longhand and text message expressions take precedence over traditional grammar. Simple communication skills and vital understanding of personal interaction are also said to be suffering, as young people spend increasing amounts of time online and communicate using their keyboards rather than face-to-face. Reliance on such methods of communication could be deeply detrimental to their ability to form healthy relationships with others in the long-run, concerned critics say, whilst they also open up dangerous possibilities of cyber-bullying and the persecution of young people online.
Another major flaw of teenagers’ over-reliance on modern technology is the ease with which students are able to plagiarise others’ work, whether intentionally or even without realising it. The more students come to rely on Wikipedia and Google to answer their homework questions, the less they are required to use their own minds to come up with independent thoughts and opinions. Instead, they are able to simply click, copy and paste.
It is clearly facetious to suggest the abandonment of technology in education, as the wealth of opportunities it provides to students is undeniable. But perhaps as we teach our children to use their electronic devices and internet access to learn and discover, we should also concentrate on encouraging them to develop as far as possible in other arenas too. E-communication is a fantastic resource but it should not be a substitute for face-to-face interaction and time spent outside with friends. Online research is an invaluable tool, but should be complimented by studying in libraries and reading books as well. And interactive learning and online teaching can be brilliant experiences, but they must not replace the vital dialogue and bond between teacher and pupil. By ensuring that our students remain educated in interpersonal and ‘real-world’ skills as well as electronic know-how, we can best prepare them to make the most of the opportunities technology has to offer without suffering any of the potentially detrimental consequences.